Thursday, May 22, 2003
The Crisis of Israeli Democracy?

The pages of Ha'aretz are filling up with people wringing their hands over the state of Israeli democracy. The latest article comes from Muli Peleg, a political science professor at Tel Aviv university, who is complaining about the narrow, authoritarian nature of the democracy in this country.

Peleg makes reference to a study released two weeks ago by the Israel Democracy Institute which claimed that some a sizeable of the population harbored anti-democratic attitudes. The biggest problem, it seems, is the attitude towards the Arab minority.

Apparently, the percentage of people who don't fully believe in the democratic system here has risen from 10% in 1999 to 23% today.

Okay, a couple of thoughts here:

1. What might have happened between 1999 and 2003 that might have made people's attitudes towards democracy and the Arabs go surly? Hmmm.... Oh yeah, how about a suicide bombing every other week perpetrated by an Arab? To some extent, it's rather unfair to ask people who are living in the middle of a violent conflict about democracy and then cluck when they're not fully keen on it.

Peleg seems to have entirely missed the point in his own analysis of the problem:
Beyond the brutalization of Israeli society as a result of ongoing occupation and unforgivable widening income gaps, there is a deeper failure in the approach to democracy.
Here's the typical Israeli leftist analysis: every problem in this country eventually comes back to the Occupation and the abandonment of our socialist principles.

This theory that The Occupation is making us brutal is off the mark. The Occupation is a problem indirectly in that it prolongs the conflict, which gives the Palis and excuse to come kill us, which is the real problem. The idea behind the thesis is that the situation in the territories sets up two sets of laws in Israel, one for inside the Green Line and one for the territories. This makes democracy seem contradictory and relative.

I might buy the thesis if a majority of the population saw the Territories as being a legitimate part of Israel. However, the majority views the Territories like a lot of Americans view Iraq: a war zone which we're trying to keep under control and which we hope to leave as soon as possible.

2. The people who do this kind of hand-wringing are holding up a standard of democracy that I don't think any country in the world adheres to. Granted, Israel's political culture is far from perfect and enlightened. To some extent the country has a problem with corruption and with not fully upholding the rule of law. And there is a bit too much reliance on the application of force rapidly to solve problems. (In Hebrew, the term is zbeng vegamarnu, "bang and we're finished").

But it's always been like that. Certainly the country has gone a long way, democracy-wise, from the heyday of the great Bolshevist institutions (the Mapai party and the Histadrut), not to mention the military government for the Arab minority in the '50s and '60s. Yes, we still have a ways to go, but I think it's a little early for worrying that the idiot who proposed a military junta on the radio the other day is representative of any trend.

Suicide Trend My Ass

In the "I told you so" department:
The wave of recent suicides has been attributed to the economic crisis. But experts say suicide is a complicated process that is not the result of the economic situation or any external situation.

"All these cases attributed to the economic situation were not caused by it," said Prof. Israel Or-Back of Bar-Ilan University, a clinical psychologist and expert on suicide. "The ruckus created around the suicide issue is bigger than the objective situation merits, and the media is definitely fanning the flames."
Gee, I seem to remember saying this exact thing only yesterday.

Today's Ha'aretz finally decides to dig a bit deeper into the economic suicide stories. What does it find? That Rachel Hartman, the teacher who killed herself earlier this week, had been distressed for a long time prior to her being laid off. Ze'ev Nir, the brother of songwriter Ehud Manor who committed suicide on Tuesday, did not know how to cope with crises and changing situation.

The statistics don't even prove that there has been a rise in suicides lately. What does seem to be the case is that all the media activity exacerbates the situation:
Most experts agreed that sensational media coverage of suicides contributes to an increase in cases. Barak mentioned a series of suicides on railway tracks in Vienna some 20 years ago. "As soon as the media coverage stopped, the suicides stopped," he said. "The media causes a chain reaction."
I just hope that media personality Natan Zehavi -- who just this morning patted himself on the back for being the first to harp on the economic suicide trend -- is taking note.

"Peace" Activist Bye Bye

And the Israel continues with its tough new policy on meddling dupes. The latest "peace" activist getting a nice one-way-ticket back home is a certain Greg Rowlins, a Canadian pest who was arrested in Hebron.

Rowlins, who is here under the auspices of something called the Christian Peacemaker team, was arrested while trying to enter the Palestinian part of Hebron. The IDF has been keeping a tight lid on groups like this, saying that they do a lot to help stir up shit among the Palestinians.

Rowlins has already had some run-ins with the army before:
"Back in August, Greg jumped in front of two soldiers after a Palestinian woman tried to attack them with a big kitchen knife, putting his body in front of them," [Rowlins' lawyer Jonathan] Katab said.
I think this summarizes a lot of the international intervention around here: deluded twerps who back the Palestinians at all times, even when they're wielding big knives.

So long, Greg. Been nice knowing you and I hope we won't see you on these shores for a real long time.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Site News

I've just upgraded to Blog*Spot Plus. What this means for the site -- other than the fact that the ad banner at the top of the page has disappeared -- is still up in the air.

If anyone out there has requests or suggestions about stuff I can ad, please mail me with it.

Also, I've been having a bit of a problem with the archives from the last month and a half. (Thanks Miranda for pointing it out.)

I'm waiting for Blogger to get back to me with a fix.

Security Guards as the New National Heroes

Kyril Schremko, a 23-year old immigrant from Russia, started his new job as a security guard at the Haamakim mall in Afula on Monday. An hour after he arrived at work, a Palestinian woman blew herself up at the entrance to the mall, killing Schremko and two others. Schremko and his fellow guard, Hadar Gitlin, prevented the bomber from going into the mall; Gitlin is still in the hospital in critical condition.

They are the latest in a series of security guards who have been killed or wounded when they stopped a suicide bomber. There is a growing recognition and appreciation of this country's security guards in the media and among the public at large. (Note to the idiot who called into "The Center Stage" yesterday bitching that the media seems more concerned about dead security guards than other victims: their sacrifice is the difference between 3 dead and 15 dead).

And yet, it's still a rotten job: stressful, boring, low-paying. Some of the security companies exploit their workers, not paying them for training or for overtime. A lot of the security guards do it because the economic situation is bad and they have no choice; a growing number of others sees it as a noble calling.

Labor MK Matan Vilnai has proposed legislation which would recognize security guards killed in the line of action as fallen soldiers, thus making their families eligible for IDF benefits. Let's hope Vilani's legislation gets passed.

Vox Populi

From yesterday's "Center Stage" call-in show on 103 FM: "Arik Sharon, it's time for you to step down. It's time to have the army take over the government and take care of the situation with the Arabs like they need to."

Given the amount of pain and anger which has been unleashed by the last wave of Palestinian attacks, I've been expecting someone to call in with this idea sooner or later. (It makes an interesting change from the guys who call in every day to say that the solution is for everyone to become religious.)The loudmouth in question was obviously an older guy and his tone -- like a lot of the callers to the show -- was angry.

It's depressing to think that there are people out there who have gotten so fed up with the Palestinians that they'd think a military dictatorship would be a nifty idea. I wonder what percentage of the public here shares the sentiment.

Economic-related suicides

In the last couple of months the Hebrew-language media has been reporting on a growing phenomena: Israelis who have committed suicide because of their dire economic situation. The two main dailies, Yediot Aharonot and Maariv both feature the same front-page account today of the death of Rachel Hartman. (Hebrew language links; the Ma'ariv one also features really annoying splash ads).

Hartman was a high-school literature teacher from Herzliya who was recently laid off from her job in the wave of teacher cutbacks which are part of the government's austerity program. According to the newspaper reports, she showed up at Ichilov hospital on Sunday complaining of depression. She was referred to the psychiatric department , but chose to end her life before she got to see someone.

Along with Hartman, a handful of other people have committed suicide this week, citing a desperate economic situation and heavy debts. The news outlets here, who generally have a tendency towards sensationalism, have seized on these stories. They serve as a wonderful metaphor for the country's general economic problems and let the reporters tsk tsk freely about the state of Israeli society.

I find the media brouhaha off-putting for a number of reasons. For one thing, the cause and effect is too simplistic. A lot of people in the country are having economic problems; only a small handful supposedly kill themselves over it. Suicide is a very personal tragedy, influenced by a large set of factors, the general emotional state of the person being key among them. In other words, there's got to be more going on in the heads of these people than just the creditors knocking at the door.

It may also not be a trend at all. On the Channel 2 morning show today, Dov Gil-Har pointed out that in the past the media refrained from reporting on suicides at all. The feeling was they didn't want to give anyone ideas. In other words, it's not that people are suddenly killing themselves over their economic situations it's that the media are suddenly reporting it. I don't know if the media focus contributes to the suicides, but if it does then that's another big reason to cool it down.

The number of suicides in Israel has apparently risen in the last year or so. But, at the same time, the overall situation in the country is rotten any which way you want to look at it. Without analyzing things more rigorously, this story smacks of nothing more than yellow journalism.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003
More Cabal Babble

And while we're in analysis mode, here's one which looks at how all the talk on the extreme right and left about sneaky cabals fits into a tradition of paranoid discourse in American politics.

Goldhagen on the new Anti-Semitism

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen (the historian whose book about the Holocaust, Hitler's Willing Executioners caused a stir a few years ago) gives a cogent analysis of the new strain of global anti-Semitism, one whose focus is Israel:
The imagery of globalized anti-Semitism is new. Rambo Jew has largely supplanted Shylock in the anti-Semitic imagination. The sly and stealth corrupting Jew of the first two eras of anti-Semitism, now armed with his new military and political power, has become the subjugating, brutalizing and killing Jew, either doing the dirty work himself, as in Israel, or employing others to do it for him, as the Jews, fantastically, are said to do with the Bush administration.

Monday, May 19, 2003
Bloody Hell

Another attack. This one in Afula. The details are still sketchy at the moment, but it looks like another case of the terrorist being physically detained by the security guard.

I can barely begin to describe the sense of hopelessness I feel about the situation at the moment.

And Sometimes it isn't an Attack...

A huge explosion shook Tel Aviv last night. For a change, the cause wasn't a suicide attack but a gas leak. Two dozen or so people were hurt in the explosion, which tore apart the Giraffe restaurant on Ibn Gvirol street and damaged all the apartments and stores around it.

This particular restaurant happens to be one of my favorite Tel Aviv eateries, and one which I pass every morning while driving the wife to work. We drove by it this morning as usual and both stared agape at the scope of the destruction. The interior of the restaurant was completely trashed and it looked like every window in the apartment block above the restaurant, as well as those to the left and right of it, was smashed.

Although lately we've taken to having food delivered from Giraffe, we've frequented the place enough in the past to both have one of those "There but for the grace of God" moments.

Missing Bomber Found

A forensics report issued this afternoon confirms that the body which washed up on a Tel Aviv beach last week is indeed that of Omar Sharif, the British citizen who was supposed to have blown himself up in the attack on Mike's Place but whose bomb failed to go off. Sharif was the subject of a massive manhunt here which has now come to an end.

I suppose we should all be relieved that the bastard is dead, but I still have this sense that justice wasn't particularly served.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
More Help We Don't Need

A charming little story in Ha'aretz's Anglo File this weekend introduces us to Laura Gordon, a college student from Pittsburgh who came to Israel on the Birthright Israel program and used the trip to sign on with the deluded do-gooders at the International Solidarity Movement.

The Birthright program is designed to take young Jews from America who have only a tenuous connection to their Jewishness and brings them to Israel in the hopes that it will strengthen their Jewish identity and their identification with Israel. Somehow, I doubt that a stint with the ISM is what the Birthright people had in mind.

That a Jewish gal from Pittsburgh would want to join the ISM in the first place should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the campuses of Amnerican liberal arts colleges. Friends of mine who attended Oberlin and other educational institutions of its ilk always laughed how the director of the Palestine Solidarity Committee at their school would invariably be named Jessica Goldberg.

By her own admission, Gordon took advantage of the Birthright program to hitch a cheap ride to Israel in order to start meddling in the conflict. This isn't nice but, as she points out, Birthgright doesn't come with any ideological stipulations, so we can't fault her for it. (In fact, by screwing the system to get something for free, Gordon is actually engaged in a time-honored Israeli tradition known in the local parlence as tachmanut.)

What's less nice, if not downright annoying, is the fact that Gordon has internalized the ISM party line: "I do believe that I am furthering the safety and long-term stability of the Jewish people by being here."

OK, Laura, let's get a couple of things straight here. As I've said before on this issue, you're not helping anyone here. At the very best, you're sticking your nose into a situation you don't fully understand and are putting it in risk of getting shot off. You're certainly helping aid and abet Palestinan terrorism, but this furthers neither Israelis nor Palestinians. And, along with everything, you're also helping to feed the growing anti-Semitism in the world. So, please spare us the bullshit about the long-term stability of the Jewish people.

Having gotten herself a cheapo ticket here, one can only hope that the IDF -- which has been busily deporting ISMers lately -- will provide Ms. Gordon with a cheapo ticket back. And soon.

Another Bombing

The old scenario once again. A Palestinian suicide bomber boarded a bus in Jerusalem this morning and murdered 7 people. Shortly thereafter, a few kilometers to the north, a second bomber blew himself up in an attempt to kill soldiers responding to the first bombing. Bomber number two, thankfully, succeeded only in killing himself.

This morning's events follow an attack last night in Hebron, where a bomber murdered of Gidi Levy and his pregnant wife, Dina. And, of course, all of this comes on the heels of attacks in Riyadh, Chechnya, and Casablanca. In short, it's been a good week for the terrorists and a really bad one for those of us in the civilized world.

I dunno. The situation is just plain bad without any sign of improvement on the horizon. Abu Mazen is fast proving himself to be worthless, much like the road map. Nothing came of the meeting between Abu Mazen and Sharon last night, and no one expects anything major to come out of the meeting between Sharon and Bush which was supposed to be held this week, but has been postponed due to the Jerusalem attacks.

In fact, the only piece of good news this week was the resignation of Sa'eb Erekat from his role as chief Palestinian negotiator. Erekat's resignation should mean that we'll see a lot less of him from now on. Being that the man makes me want to spit at the television each time I see him, his resignation at the very least should be a positive development for my TV set.